Soldiers serving time in civilian prison 1840's......

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Soldiers serving time in civilian prison 1840's......

Postby Victorian Dad » 22 Sep 2017 17:56

I wonder if anyone can shine any light on this for me?

I'm currently conducting a research project (unrelated to this forum's topics), but have stumbled across something during my research which I thought might be of interest and wondered whether anyone can help?

The date is the 8th May 1841 and two recruits from the 89th Regiment get involved in a drunken fight with the police in Epsom, they are both charged and both receive 9 month prison sentences.

My question is this, as they were both serving soldiers albeit recruits, what would have happened with regards their military service. At first I thought that perhaps that would have marked the end of their short careers, but then I thought how easy would it be for recruits who decided they didn't like the army to go into town get drunk and have a fight with the police, hoping to get sent to prison and thus escape the army. That being said, I assume once their sentences had been served they would have continued with their military service?

Has anyone got any thoughts on this?


I believe that the 89th were in Canada in 1841. What's the likelihood of finding the service papers for these two miscreants?
There names were -

James Phipps and John Ratcliffe


I wonder whether they went on to serve with the 89th in the Crimean War? Has anyone got access to the medal roll for the 89th and could look to see if anyone of these names appears on it?
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Re: Soldiers serving time in civilian prison 1840's......

Postby Frogsmile » 23 Sep 2017 07:58

My understanding is that at that time the key aspect for soldiers on trial was whether or not they were 'dismissed the Service' as a part of their sentence. Magistrates, perhaps conscious of the Army's need of trained soldiers and the fact that they might use petty offences as a means of obtaining discharge, would usually only impose dismissal for more serious offences.

From 1846 sentences of under 2-years with or without dismissal seem to have been served out in one of fairly widespread regional military prisons (before this civil prisons were used), staffed by civilians warders employed by the War Office (often but not exclusively time-served soldiers and NCOs), where punishments such as shot drill (shuttle runs with cannon balls), and hand turning a crank were imposed. Sentences over 2-years always incurred dismissal and were served out in civil prisons. On release from the military prison men were returned to their regiment to continue service unless their discharge had been ordered due to 'bad character'.

N.B. It is worthy of note that even after the supposed abolition of flogging in the British Army it continued to be authorised on active service and within military prisons. There are some interesting details here:

1. https://www.corpun.com/ukarr1.htm
2. http://www.reenactor.ru/ARH/PDF/Burrougs.pdf (See in particular page 564)
3. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=OCg ... ny&f=false
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Re: Soldiers serving time in civilian prison 1840's......

Postby Victorian Dad » 23 Sep 2017 10:56

Many thanks frogsmile, that is very interesting and something I will certainly look into in greater detail.

I assume then that as they were recruits and their sentences were short that they would have have "soldiered on". Interesting that the 89th is an Irish Regiment, I wonder how they came to have joined that and not a local Regiment. With the limited information available, I have been unable to find either of them on the 1841 census, so perhaps they weren't local men at all?

Any theories on how two recruits from the 89th should happen to be in a pub in Epsom? Would a nominal roll for the 89th perhaps in 1842 exist? A long shot perhaps that they would still be serving at the time of the Crimean war and appear on the regimental medal roll?
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Re: Soldiers serving time in civilian prison 1840's......

Postby Frogsmile » 23 Sep 2017 11:53

Victorian Dad wrote:Many thanks frogsmile, that is very interesting and something I will certainly look into in greater detail.

I assume then that as they were recruits and their sentences were short that they would have have "soldiered on". Interesting that the 89th is an Irish Regiment, I wonder how they came to have joined that and not a local Regiment. With the limited information available, I have been unable to find either of them on the 1841 census, so perhaps they weren't local men at all?

Any theories on how two recruits from the 89th should happen to be in a pub in Epsom? Would a nominal roll for the 89th perhaps in 1842 exist? A long shot perhaps that they would still be serving at the time of the Crimean war and appear on the regimental medal roll?


Soldiers did not join a regiment associated with their home area until the decades after 1881 reforms. Before that period they usually joined at the nearest barracks regardless of who its temporary occupants were, or were picked up by a recruiting party (a junior officer, a sergeant and one or two drummers) 'drumming up' (literally) recruits by roving from village to village. They were then attested, sworn in by a magistrate and marched (and shipped) to the regimental depot company's location. In early 1841 the 89th Regiment's Service Companies were in Antigua and the Reserve (aka Depot) Company was at Clonmel, in Ireland: http://usacac.army.mil/CAC2/CGSC/CARL/n ... 841BAA.pdf

Later that year the 89th's Service Companies moved to Canada: http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/36849361

My guess is that your men had just been signed up by a recruiting party and were actually enroute to the depot (marched by daily stages) when they got drunk and were arrested. In those days parties of soldiers were put up for the night in Taverns and Hostelries, and the new recruits would still have had the residue of their recruitment bounty to spend. History abounds with such instances of drunken foolishness.
Last edited by Frogsmile on 23 Sep 2017 16:31, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Soldiers serving time in civilian prison 1840's......

Postby Victorian Dad » 23 Sep 2017 13:20

Thanks again frogsmile fascinating stuff!!!! I wonder whether they were heading for the coast in order to board a ship for Ireland and the depot. I assume also that having been convicted they would have been taken to the nearest military prison to serve out their sentences, not a glowing start to their military service!!!
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Re: Soldiers serving time in civilian prison 1840's......

Postby Frogsmile » 23 Sep 2017 16:36

Victorian Dad wrote:Thanks again frogsmile fascinating stuff!!!! I wonder whether they were heading for the coast in order to board a ship for Ireland and the depot. I assume also that having been convicted they would have been taken to the nearest military prison to serve out their sentences, not a glowing start to their military service!!!


Yes, I think that they probably were on their way to a port to be shipped to Ireland, although we can never know for sure. Before 1846 there were just a few military prisons, almost all at ports and river heads, and many men were simply sent to local civil prisons. It was for this latter reason and its pejorative effects that military prisons were expanded in 1846.
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